“Freedom of press is being discussed again today and I said that the way press freedom is being attacked, that is not good… Press Council of India (PCI) is another mechanism of self-regulation. Though the head is appointed by the government, it has representatives of press owners, editors, journalists, photographers and parliamentarians. But people are demanding that the PCI should be given more powers. That is also being considered,” he said.
The Vice-President’s words are comforting. But the real picture on the ground is quite disturbing and depressing. In recent months, many journalists have been summarily detained or arrested by state governments. Journalist Walter Lippman once said, “A free press is …an organic necessity in a great society.” Every democracy must remember that.
Noting the absence of a Press Council-like body to regulate TV news even though he referred to the National Broadcasting Standards Authority as an institution where “anyone can complain to them and they even punish the erring channels”, Javadekar said, “But there are many channels that are not even members of that… and they have no restrictions… Such a system cannot exist…”
He voiced similar concerns for digital and OTT platforms, which are governed neither by any PCI-like system, nor by any formal self-regulatory mechanism.
The minister also said the I&B ministry was looking into ways to strengthen the TV ratings mechanism, adding that the government deliberately never interfered with BARC as advertisers and broadcasters were on the same page. “Now the time has come that we have to interfere… How to kill the possibility of manipulation, we have created a committee for it, and it will give a report soon on what is possible,” he said.
In a written message, President Ram Nath Kovind lauded mediapersons as front-line corona warriors who played an important role in educating people and mitigating the impact of the pandemic.
In a video-message, Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu condemned attacks on press freedom and said any such move was detrimental to national interests. Naidu said, “Democracy cannot survive without a free and fearless press.” Naidu, however, added that the media must be fair, objective and accurate in its reporting.